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The Hike to Crater Lake Bisoke (also popularly known as Crater Lake or Lake Ngezi) in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda is a challenging one and can be reached only with a guide and armed escorts. I trekked with a guide, yet almost by myself and here is my story :)
Before the Trek it's important to book the 4x4 vehicle which will take you early in the morning to the Park reception, then to the base of trek and finally back to Musanze. The cost of these vehicles is fixed at $80. I traveled with Enamuel, a very friendly dude who also spoke good English. His number is 07830-03353 if you need to book. If you are traveling with a tour operator (which is how most people travel), they will do all arrangements and you don't need to worry about these logistical things.
After paying a fee of $75 at the reception, you will meet your assigned guide for the trek and other trek members, if any. In my case, I was the only one trekking that day so it was just me and my guide.
After a quick briefing, we both took off to the base in my 4x4, a drive of about 45 minutes. We were greeted by four forest Rangers at the entrance of the park and they were with us through the trek.
I had read a few reviews of Bisoke Trek before I decided to do it, and most had categorized it as medium to tough. In a way I was prepared for it, but not completely.
It had rained a couple of days ago, and so the mud trek had converted into a slush trek, of which we covered large sections in knee deep in this slurry. It's tough to walk on a flat ground like this, and when you are constantly trekking up, the challenges are even more. I was always slipping on the steep climbs and my only support was the trekking stick.
My guide had declared pretty early on that he didn't like trekking at all and did it only as part of his job. Thereafter he was rather grumpy, often complaining that I needed to pace up so that we could come down early. I generally make good friends with my guides, but he was least interested in any conversation or bonding, and I decided to give him some space. I tried talking to our armed escorts and they were quite friendly. Unfortunately they didn't speak any English and all we could do was exchange names. I also took a few selfies with them, but that was the end of our interaction.
As we climbed higher, the terrain changed and the last quarter was mainly walking on rocks. I remember complaining so much on my last trek which was mainly rocky at Mulanje, but for now the rocks were a welcome relief. With terrain, the vegetation also changed dramatically. From the thick green foliage at the base, now the volcano peak was a much more naked with completely different kinds of trees. The weather had changed as well, with clouds all around us. We could neither see the base nor the summit. I could almost feel slight drizzle which was bad news. Thankfully it never rained though the fog stayed with us this point onward.
Reaching the summit was quite sudden. Unlike most other mountains, the volcanoes are quite flat on top and due to the fog I never saw it coming. It was really really cold on top and I could barely prevent myself from shivering. After four hours of trekking, we were on top but I could not yet see the lake. Where was it?
The fog had hidden the lake completely and I saw it only for a few seconds when sun showed it's face for a while. I could not take any picture so borrowed one from my friend Grace who trekked to the top a day after I did.
The trek down was no better. We were faster but the risks of slipping were dramatically higher. I almost slipped at every steep descent, but somehow managed to save myself. Wearing gum boots saved my feet from muck, but took away the much-needed traction that trekking shoes had.
As we touched the base of the volcano and walked through the fields of flowers, the view in front of me was breathtaking. I didn't want to go back early anymore...
All good things come to an end, and so did this trip. The one trek I couldn't do this time was the one to the highest volcano here - Mount Karisimbi. This just means that I will have to come back to the Volcanoes of Rwanda once again :)